JB: My guest today is The Pen, activist and policy advocate. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Pen. When we spoke last, back in January, 2012, we discussed The Last War Crime, the film you made about Dick Cheney. Right now, you're headed in another but equally important direction. Can you tell our readers what you're up to?
Pen: Thank you, Joan, and thank you for your own valiant work in covering all these vital issues. Fifty years ago, Silent Spring was published, which sounded the alarm about the reckless use of DDT in the environment. Today, we face an even bigger threat. In about 2005, honeybee colonies starting dying off dramatically. There had always been a 5-10% loss over each winter. But suddenly numbers starting jumping to 30% or more. And last year alone it was a 45% loss, the worst yet. In just one more year like this, we will no longer have enough honeybees to pollinate all our fruit crops, our nuts and many of our most familiar vegetables, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.
JB: I've been fascinated with bees ever since reading a Magic School Bus In a Beehive book to my kids. I don't think that people have any idea of the gravity of the issue. What does it all mean, Pen? And why is it happening? Tell us everything we need to know!
Pen: When bees suddenly starting dying in such alarming numbers at first it was a mystery. But as this has been studied, a strong correlation has been demonstrated with the use of a new generation of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which started in 2003. Recognizing this, the European Union earlier this year put in place a two year moratorium on the use of these new poisons because of this growing evidence. What makes these new chemical poisons so insidious is they are systemic in the plants. They are literally in the nectar on which the bees feed, which the bees then concentrate.
JB: Yikes! Like a booby trap?
Pen: Yes, and it's an enduring booby trap because these chemicals take a long time to degrade. We happen to believe a return to more organic farming methods is the only hope for long term sustainability. But even if you agree that pesticides are necessary from time to time, the worst time is when the bees are feeding. We don't need to turn all our plants into permanent death traps. Let's say you have a pest that attacks the fruit of a plant. By that time the bees are long gone, indeed, there is no fruit without the bees there first. The farmers rent the bee hives when their plants are flowering. But this last year, many farmers were desperate to find bees because the population has already been decimated so much. And even if THOSE farmers were not using these poisons, the bees can still be exposed in neighboring fields. The emergency is here and it is here now.
JB: How does Monsanto figure in here, Pen?
Pen: To be sure, Monsanto is a bad actor as to GMOs which we can also discuss. But one of the biggest pushers of neonicotinoids is a Swiss company, Syngenta, which was criminally indicted in Germany for concealing cattle deaths from their own GMO corn. Other corporations involved are biotech giants Bayer, Dow and DuPont. There is evidence that bees are also being harmed by the increased use of herbicides, which GMOs invite. In fact, GMOs are generating resistant weeds so fast, farmers dependent on them are forced to use more and more chemicals (more sales for Monsanto) just to try to keep up. But banning neonicotinoids is the most critical first step. Some might argue that bees will develop resistance over time as well. The question is, will we wipe them all out before that can happen?
JB: Gruesome thought, to be sure. The wind blows GMO seeds into neighboring farmers' fields. And the resulting lawsuits, brought to you by Monsanto, bankrupt farmers who are minding their own business, trying to supply us with untainted crops. Where does this leave us?
Pen: The most important thing to emphasize is that these neonicotinoids have never actually been tested for safety. They were given conditional approval for agricultural uses by the EPA because they were approved for other uses. We can't emphasize this enough, CONDITIONAL approval, and the condition was that they would be field tested for safety after the fact, which is itself outrageous enough. And yet this was never done. What are we going to do when the bees are all dead? Call that the testing and conclude, "Oops, guess they weren't safe"? This alone is grounds for immediately suspending their use as the Europeans have already wisely done.
JB: Good for the Europeans! I recently interviewed independent filmmaker Holly Mosher about her film on Muhammad Yunus. But back in 2009, she was executive producer for Vanishing of the Bees . Their website gives this startling statistic: "Commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables." That makes this really serious, affecting each and every one of us, unlike many issues. Because we all eat. And you're talking about our food supply, ultimately. So, Pen, what can we do about this dangerous situation?
Pen: Congressman Blumenauer from Oregon, who has farmers in his state he actually listens to on occasion, has just introduced the Save America's Pollinator's Act of 2013, which we are strongly advocating for and we have an action page to send messages to members of Congress on this which is getting a lot of response:
Save Our Bees Action Page: http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1131.php
There is a function on that action page where you can view the last 25 live messages in the advocacy stream. And interestingly, we are seeing many messages from people observing how native bees have vanished from their own home gardens over the last couple years. This crisis is everywhere.
But not relying on Congress alone, because the EPA has dropped the ball to the extent that they never demanded the testing required by the "conditional" approval from 10 years ago, we see this as something that could be accomplished simply by executive order. President Obama with a stroke of a pen could direct the EPA to act on this, and we will be following up to demand this specifically.